By Erin Sherbert
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"What's happened to us," Cowens says, "is unprecedented. ... This is a team where the personnel and everything is brand-new, and then we get hit with all this stuff. ... But I don't know how good we'd be. I mean, we were together for about seven games, and we were 1-6. I know I don't wanna be that."
The Warriors' practice facility is a 58,000-square-foot bunker tucked behind the Marriott Hotel in Oakland City Center, the first floor of which is occupied mostly by a cavernous trio of gleaming basketball courts. By 1 p.m. the day before a game in Utah, all the healthy players have finished practice and scattered, leaving four or five injured players visible in and around the adjacent weight room. Only Adonal Foyle, the fourth-year backup center out of Colgate University, remains in the gym. Foyle has just finished a rehab workout for his broken right shinbone, and his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame is hemorrhaging sweat. Before sitting down for an interview, he asks if he should dry off first, his heavily accented, nearly flawless English hinting at his Island of Grenadines roots.
The Warriors used a lottery pick on him in 1997, still trying to fill the power-player vacuum created by the Webber trade. Having been here since, Foyle's seen his share of losing. The teams he's played on -- "and not played on," he jokes -- have lost 186 of their 260 games. And when he was a rookie, still trying to figure out NBA life, his team's captain tried to choke his coach, which -- aside from forcing the team to shed its best player -- put the team under a dark cloud for the next year.
"Nobody ever wanted to talk about any game, just, "How did P.J. [Carlesimo] look,' and all that," he says. "And, on the road, the fans were so brutal. You know, "Hey, P.J., how's your neck? He shoulda broke it.' And you're like, damn."
Foyle is laughing, because what else can you do when you've been through so much misery in such a short career? (His ability to keep the team's woes in perspective may be partly owed to his off-court preoccupations: a nearly finished master's degree in sports psychology, and the Law School Aptitude Test he's purchased the prep books for.) Still, he's suffering. This season is far more frustrating than past Warriors insanity because, Foyle insists, this team is "sooo talented. The fans can't really see how good we are."
They see 15-33.
"It's just been very frustrating, knowing that there are things you can do to help the team, when the team is close in almost every game," he says. "You look down the bench, and the coach just doesn't have any choice."
There is no denying that injuries have hurt the Warriors, sometimes in obvious, specific ways. For example, Foyle is a defensive specialist. Just a few days earlier, he sat in street clothes and watched his team allow an eye-popping 112 points to a middle-of-the-pack Houston team at the Arena. But it wasn't merely the number of points the team allowed, it was the way it allowed them.
Houston's Matt Bullard and Walt Williams, for instance, are oversized shooting specialists who do one thing consistently: make jump shots when left completely alone. So you can understand why Warriors fans were booing when, over and over again, Bullard or Williams would set screens for Houston point guard Steve Francis, who would slide a step or two away from the screen, drawing both his defender and the player guarding the screener, the way a rabbit baits a racing dog. And then, over and over again, as if in excruciatingly slow motion, Francis would softly flutter the ball over the defenders' heads and -- lo and behold -- the Players Who Can Only Shoot When Left Completely Alone ... were shooting when left completely alone. By the time the game was over, the Warriors had surrendered 10 three-point baskets.
Golden State's defensive woes weren't limited to three-pointers. Moochie Norris, an extremely left-handed Houston guard, beat the Warriors' guards repeatedly by driving past them without so much as a suggestion that he had a right hand. As Norris sized up the Warriors' defense once again, preparing to drive left to the basket, one writer who regularly covers the team actually flailed his arms in the air and yelped, "Left!"
Then Moochie Norris blazed by Mookie Blaylock in that familiar leftward direction.
As Norris and his fellow Houston back-court mates coasted by the Warriors again and again, Foyle, who specializes in swatting such shots out of the lane, watched helplessly. To his right, at the end of the bench, was Erick Dampier, the sullen-seeming, 6-foot-11-inch giant in a tan business suit who can, when healthy, also block a shot or two.
Other members of the M*A*S*H crowd have attributes the Warriors could certainly use on the court. The enormous Afro rising out of the mountain of baggy denim to Foyle's right was small forward Chris Porter, one of the bright spots of the season before spraining his ankle in a Jan. 5 game at Boston. The 55th pick in this season's NBA draft, Porter managed to make a positive impression on the Warriors -- showing some quickness and toughness, if not much of a jump shot -- after being forced into the lineup by injuries to Fortson, veteran swingman Chris Mills, and the ancient Chris Mullin. And to Porter's right was Fortson, the rotund rebounder who was decked out in a cobalt suit that evening.